Egypt Between the Brotherhood, the Salafists - and the Generals

Article Summary
The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s elections has come as no surprise, but the close second place finish of the more extremist Salafists has caught many off guard. Far from being problematic for the country’s Copts and liberal elite alone, the Brotherhood is also deeply concerned about the growing power of the Salafists, writes Osama Abdel Rahman. While the Brothers adopt a moderate version of Islam and form an accepted component of Egyptian civil society, the Salafists espouse a more puritanical Islamist ideology which threatens the country’s democratic transition, according to the author.

As expected, the Islamists in Egypt have swept the elections and the [Brotherhood’s] Freedom and Justice Party was the outright winner of elections. Exceeding expectations, the Salafists have come in second, winning a handsome victory as well. Inexperienced in the political field and [previously] shunning democracy, the triumph of the Salafists came as a surprise to many.

[As the political wing of] the Muslim Brotherhood, known for its political savvy, resilience and discipline, the Freedom and Justice Party has gained in popularity. However, the party’s popularity is also owed to fact that Egyptian society has always been fervently religious. Moreover, the party appeals to the grindingly poor Egyptians by providing rudimentary financial aid programs and fighting unemployment. Perhaps because they were hounded and persecuted for many years, the Brotherhood’s leaders also attract the sympathy of the oppressed people, who relate to them. This is not to mention that the Brothers oppose Zionism and Western support for [Israel], which contributes to their growing popularity. The Freedom and Justice Party is also closer to Egypt's moderate mainstream and is more flexible with its surroundings, and better at dealing with the different components of the political spectrum.

The Salafists, on the other hand, whose victory remains a surprise, espouse a more extreme and dogmatic Islamist ideology. They seem more radical and removed from the political discourse. Their sermons and fatwas were a source of controversy and concern for many who fear that the Salafists will [negatively] influence politics and legislation in the coming phase. In their statements, the Salafists allude to the establishment of a religious state - an option that is ruled out by the Freedom and Justice Party, which emphasizes its commitment to a civil state.

The victory of the Salafists does not seem to be a cause of concern for the Christian and Liberal parties alone; it has also alarmed the Brothers. The Salafists seem to pursue a full-blown Islamist agenda. Their political platform does not lie within the peaceful framework of the revolution, seeking to establish a democracy that guarantees freedom, justice, dignity and equality and fights against tyranny and corruption. Revolutionaries seek a country where the rule of law prevails and the judiciary is independent.

Despite all this, however, many believe that once the Salafists take up the reins of power, they will adapt to the realities of the new situation. In any case, the alliances between the different political parties remain a major factor in shaping the [future] political landscape.

Perhaps the role of the army at the beginning of the revolution in Egypt was lauded, as its impartiality paved the way for the revolution’s success. However, once the army took charge of the transitional period, the role it has played proved rather disappointing. There has been a great deal of procrastination in its performance, and the required procedures and demands have not been fully implemented. Perhaps the Supreme Council of the Armed forces (SCAF) is inexperienced in managing such situations, which is why it has not done the job properly, unable as it is to keep pace with the volatility of the transitional period.

Thus the SCAF tried to form an advisory council made up of civilians representing the political parties and different segments of the population, in order to assist it in this phase. Many were alarmed by the bloody clashes between the army and the protesters, which inflicted heavy casualties. The army was condemned and was no longer placed on a pedestal. The perpetrators were never caught or tried, which make matters worse, as those loyal to the ousted regime are still on the loose.

Although Tunisia and Egypt witnessed the same chronological events between the eruption of their revolutions and the toppling of their regimes, their transitional periods have differed. In Tunisia, the transitional period seems to have been more streamlined with the political landscape being shaped in a harmonious manner, without confrontations or turbulence.

Many believe that this is due to the fact that in Tunisia the army was not in charge of managing the transitional period, and that [Tunisian] Islamists are more moderate, given the limited presence of Salafists. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Christians account for a significant segment [of the population] and are threatened by the sweeping victory of the Salafists. Not to mention that the generals are managing the transitional period.

Egypt is still treading uncharted waters, while many - both within the country and beyond its borders - wait for it to drown, given its demographic and historical weight, strategic location and its ability to influence the entire Arab world. [In this context,] Zionism remains the biggest threat.

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